Tuesday, March 27, 2007

ACC in the NIT

Lost in the discussion of how much the NCAAs played to seed is that this year's NIT is pure chalk (stupid question, where does this expression come from?) - all four 1 seeds advanced to the Garden. Of course, getting home court advantage helps, but these are four legitimately good basketball teams that, but for certain periods of adversity during the season, would have strongly merited NCAA bids. All are top-32 in the Pomeroy Ratings, with Air Force leading the way at #21 , and these are the four-best non-NCAA teams accoording to those ratings (these are rankings as of today, not as of the start of the post-season, so each has received a bump on account of winning three in a row while teams around them are losing).

For the Tigers, they're clearly enjoying playing non-ACC opponents for the first time in 2007. If Clemson wins the NIT, they'll be 19-0 against non-ACC teams, compared to 7-10 in their conference. So far, the NIT has played out like a preview of the future - sophomore KC Rivers and freshman Trevor Booker have been studs. Booker is averaging 12 and 7, and Rivers is scoring nearly 20/game, including a career high 29 in the win over Syracuse. Clemson will definitely be able to use this NIT run as momentum for next year - only Vernon Hamilton departs, and David Potter should be able to step into his shoes reasonably well.

Tonight's game features a real contrast in styles. Clemson is up-tempo and pressing - they thrive off turnovers and their full court press is about as good as they come - 8th best in the country in steals. Air Force, on the other hand, is another Princeton-style team that plays very, very slow - only 58.4 possessions per game. They're deliberate, they shoot well, and they never turn the ball over. Air Force's offensive stats are severe - they're in the top 20 in several categories - EFG%, turnover%, assist rate, and ratio of 3s to 2s, but then atrocious in offensive rebounding (332nd) and getting their own shots blocked (324th). This is close to the epitome of a perimeter-oriented team, although they are reasonably good at getting to the free throw line. Air Force is also experienced - four seniors and a junior start - so Clemson may not be able to rattle them with the press. If the Tigers can't force some turnovers, look out - Clemson's offense and defense in the half court leave a lot to be desired.

Monday, March 26, 2007

NCAAs, now 100% ACC free

A very good argument could be made that Georgetown just played the best offensive game of the year, by any team, considering circumstances and opponent. Georgetown was exceptional when they had the ball in their hands. They made some exceptionally pretty passes, hit clutch shots, and never gave up the ball. They took a top-5 defensive team apart, laying a 128.7 ORating on them like it was nothing. The credit for the Hoyas belong to all five starters - they combined to go 35 of 57 from the floor, including a stellar 8 for 12 from beyond the arc. Let's take a deeper look at their relative performance:
  • It was, by far, the worst defensive performance of the year for Carolina - the previous worst was 121.4. Only NC State shot better, and only Tennessee and BC turned the ball over fewer.
  • The Hoyas put together their 7th best rating, but some of the others were against defensive stalwarts like Winston-Salem St, JMU, and Cincinnati. They shot better in only 5 games, and turned the ball over less in just 3.
The Hoyas were consistent - they shot 57% in both the first half, and the second half & overtime. But they were at their finest down the stretch - they scored 31 points in the last 22 possessions, hitting on well over 70% of their attempts. Carolina, by contrast, went ultra-cold - in those same 22 possessions, UNC scored nine points (to steal blatantly from the Big Ten Wonk - nine, a number so small you can spell it). They made a grand total of two field goals in the last 14:54. By the way, there's a lot of "jumper, miss" and "3pt miss," and not a whole lot of "layup" at all. There's no point singling out either the coaches or any of the players for blame, but for whatever reason, the ball simply stopped going inside. And again, I'm not sure how much was strategy, how much was execution, and how much was Georgetown, but UNC's offensive rebounding that was so dominant for the second half against USC and the first half against the Hoyas went missing at game's end - the Hoyas shut down the second chance points, and the offense went stagnant.

It was a tough game for UNC's perimeter players - Lawson, Ellington, Green, and Terry combined to go 8 for 39 (that's barely 20%, for those of you scoring at home). Terry missed a couple of shots down the stretch that he'd been hitting in recent weeks (see for example, the NC State game), and Danny Green posted a difficult 0-fer. Lawson looked timid in the half court, and Ellington continued his role as bellwether for the team - he shot poorly in all but one of their losses, and was a combined 21 of 70 in the games UNC lost. Ellington faded down the stretch - he was 21 of 68 over his last 15 games.

UNC now faces a tricky off-season, that could feature as many as five departures without any replacement coming in. Here's a look at their depth chart assuming everyone stays.

PG: Lawson, Frasor, Thomas
SG: Ellington
SF: Ginyard, Green
PF: Wright, Thompson
C: Hansbrough, Stepheson

This lineup looks about as good as this year's - they lose Terry, whose experience was invaluable, and Miller, whose perimeter game had fallen off, but who's defense was as good as ever, but factor in another year of improvement for everyone, and you're looking at preseason #1. If only Lawson goes, there's a dropoff, but it's still an incredibly dangerous team inside. Without Wright, there's a whole lot of loss up front - Thompson looked good yesterday, but he just can't do the things Wright could do (let's face it, not many can). Without Wright and Lawson, the team isn't a lot different from the 05-06 squad, which isn't too bad - basically trading Terry for Ellington and adding a couple players. But if all three are gone, it suddenly looks like a slightly more talented version of this year's NC State team - just seven scholarship players, all of whom are ACC quality (except maybe Thomas), but none exceptional. It has to be a scary thought for some in Chapel Hill that the Heels next year could start Frasor, Ellington, Ginyard, Thompson, and Stepheson with only Thomas, Green, and Mike Copeland coming off the bench. I'm in no position to speculate on who might stay and who might go, but there's no team with more at stake in the off-season.

The NCAA might now be ACC-free, but the post-season isn't. Those plucky Clemson Tigers, winners of 17 straight to start the year, have made their way through to the NIT semi-finals, and tip-off tomorrow night in the Garden against Air Force. Stay tuned during the day for a (brief) preview of the game.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

East Regional Roundup

With the clock showing 17:15 in the second half, USC led UNC 49-33. With the clock showing 11:05, USC led 59-49. UNC proceeded to go on an 18-0 run over the next 6 1/2 minutes that totally demoralized USC. Even though Stewart's 3 at 4:28 cut it to 5, the game was already over. The moving screen/Tim Floyd technical three minutes later just sealed the deal. In that stretch, UNC picked up 6 offensive rebounds (against 3 defensive boards for USC) and scored 9 points on second-chance efforts (and the two baskets before the run started were on offensive put-backs as well). UNC controlled the glass all night, but never moreso that doing that run (more than half of which, not at all coincidentally, came while Taj Gibson was sitting comfortably on a cushioned folding chair next to his coach).

SC came out extremely hot. They pushed tempo on UNC (which not a lot of teams have done this year) and guards like Pruitt, Hackett, and Young were breaking people down and getting into the paint. Gibson had all sorts of energy inside - he controlled the glass, kept the ball away from Hansbrough, and blocked shots. But after picking up three quick ones in the second half, he had to go to the bench, and you could almost see the entire Trojan team look worried. At that point, all the energy the Trojans seemed to have early faded away. They were both tired down the stretch, and looked like they couldn't take the Tar Heels' punch when it finally came. The run staggered USC, and there was no coming back.

Brandan Wright, Marcus Ginyard, and Danny Green had big games - I have to admit, I love watching Brandan Wright play. He's so quick off the floor, and he just seems to hit everything from 8 feet in. He looks very pro-ready (except for the fact that he's a little wiry), but even though he plays for the Heels, I'd like to see him back in college again next year.

Sunday, the Heels play Georgetown with a chance to get to the final four. Georgetown has the size to frustrate UNC, but they absolutely need to play a slow game. There is just no earthly way Roy Hibbert can go up-and-down with Hansbrough for 30 minutes - he can't keep up. The one thing the Hoyas have going for them is that UNC has struggled some this year with system offenses - they never really shut down NC State in three games. Discipline in the half court will be essential for UNC, because Georgetown is very patient, and executes as well as anyone on offense. It'll be interesting to see whether they put Wright or Ginyard/Terry against Green - Wright has the size to matchup with him inside, but I'm not sure the Heels want Wright to spend the entire defensive game out toward the perimeter. Terry and Ginyard give up a little size, but might be able to frustrate Green's ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the hoop. Whichever one doesn't get Green will have Summers, who can be an equally problematic matchup if he's playing well. Still, the Hoyas will have a tough time running with the Heels, and while their goal will be to slow them down, not a lot of teams have slowed down North Carolina this season. If this game hits 72 possessions, I don't really see how Georgetown can win.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

ACC in the Sweet 16 - UNC vs. USC

This was supposed to be the matchup of the tournament (at least pre-final four). The deepest, and potentially most talented and most balanced, team in the country taking on the unstoppable force that is Kevin Durant, the best teenager in the country who doesn't already look 35. But USC and Rick Barnes got in the way - one trotting out a perfect game, the other standing blindly on the sideline watching his team get outplayed and outcoached. So instead, we get the team a year away from being OJ Mayo's team squaring off opposite the Heels. But before people get too glum about not seeing Durant-UNC, I'm here to offer a few reasons why this matchup is still worth watching, and can still produce an upset.

1) Outside shooting
3pt FG defense is the most pedestrian part of UNC's defense, and it's the one area in which USC excels the most. The Trojans hit an astounding 42% of their threes in conference play, and in Nick Young and Lodrick Stewart, they have the Pac-10's two most accurate 3-point shooters. USC was 25 of 51 in the conference tournament from beyond the arc, and stayed hot against Arkansas and Texas. They don't devote a huge percentage of their shots to 3s, but a 6-13, 8-15 kind of shooting performance is well within reach.

2) Usable post depth
Taj Gibson is a stud down low - he shoots 56% from the floor and is USC's best offensive and defensive rebounder and best shot-blocker. He'll play as many minutes as they can give him (likely 35-36, assuming no foul trouble), and probably be matched up with Wright if he's not the only front-court player on the court (going small, like USC did against Texas, may not be the best idea against UNC, who would like nothing better than to post-up Wright and Hansbrough all night). At the center spot, Wilkinson, N'Diaye, and Cromwell provide a very adequate 15 fouls. These three can afford to play very physically with Hansbrough because there's not really a lot of difference among these three - N'diaye is a little better than the other two, and Wilkinson is more capable of stepping outside on offense, but essentially, they're interchangeable parts. This means USC has less to worry about in terms of foul trouble, because they really only need 10-15 minutes out of each guy in the game.

3) The Daniel Hackett factor
I can't adequately describe how completely out of nowhere Hackett's performance was against Texas. He averaged 8 pts/40 minutes in Pac-10 play, and didn't hit double figures against a conference opponent. So of course when he gets a surprise start in the second round of the NCAA tournament he's going to explode for 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting and successfully bait Kevin Durant to take 15-20 foot fadeaways against a defender at least 5 inches shorter. I'm not saying Hackett will reprise this in the Sweet 16. But there's something about getting once-in-a-lifetime performances in March that seem to bode well for a team - a sign that things are falling into place and maybe, just maybe, fate is on your side.

So there are three reasons this might be an upset. Here are three other reasons to watch:

1) Nick Young's hair
It's currently some kind of faux-hawk, but that doesn't mean he won't do something crazy to it for the Sweet 16. Young has that little bit of crazy about him, where he could be the next Gilbert Arenas or the next Ron Artest (remember, Artest was a sweetheart in college) - I hope for the sake of everyone involved it's the former.

2) The presence of Lodrick
Matt Doherty recruited Seattle twins Lodrick and Rodrick Stewart extremely hard, and the shows that the twins would put on in AAU warmups were legendary. Tar Heel Nation fetishized (scroll down to the entry titled "the twins") over seeing these two in the baby blue, and were more than a little disappointed when they opted for USC. Rodrick has since transferred to Kansas, but Lodrick has been money as the number 2 scoring option to Nick Young in his senior season as a Trojan. He's already helped knock off the Heels once (December 2005) and would love to do it again

3) The Daniel Hackett factor
This goes hand-in-hand with the Ryan Francis story. Francis, SC's starting point guard from last year, was shot and killed in the off-season. Gabe Pruitt, PG #2, was either injured or ineligible (I think the latter, but not positive). Last year in June, Hackett was going to his Junior prom. When SC all of a sudden turned up short two point guards, Hackett took summer community college courses and high school courses to graduate high school in three years and join the Trojans a season early. He started his first dozen or so games before taking on a sixth man role during Pac-10 play. Now, he has a chance to help his team reach the Elite 8 one year ahead of schedule.

Finally, some thoughts on Carolina, who, despite everything menitoned above, is still going to win this game. It's been kind of a favorite meme in the TV analyst v. tempo-free blogger conflict this year that the bloggers will pick on analysts who say that Carolina's problem is defense. Not so fast, bloggers say, Carolina is the 4th best defensive team in the country! Stick that in your pipe and smoke it! And the bloggers have a point. Carolina is, in fact, the 4th best defensive team in the country, and can be very imposing on opponents - stellar D Ratings against Kentucky (87.41), Virginia (92.96), Arizona (79.80), Georgia Tech (83.85), and ridiculous numbers against less formidable opponents, like Clemson (70.49), Wake Forest (75.38), Dayton (67.42), and Gardner-Webb (59.29). However, the analysts are right too, because Carolina's D is highly fluctuating, while their offense is steady. The national average this year was 102.1 points per 100 possessions. UNC fell below that line on offense just 3 times, and won 2 of those games (the loss being to Gonzaga, the only game this year that UNC's offense and defense were bad). However, they allowed opponents to best that mark 9 times, and went only 4-5 in those contests. This suggests that the key really is Carolina's defense. You know, going into the game, that UNC's offense will score, and will likely produce about 72-76 points in a 70 possession game. This is almost a given. The problem is, it's not always clear which defense will show up. Will it be the one that held Arizona to 64 points in 80 possessions? Or will it be the one that gave up 163 points (115 ORating) in two games against NC State (at State and in the tournament, not including the game at UNC), 175 points (111 ORating) in two games against Virginia Tech, and let even High Point score better than the national average? The Tar Heels will win if their D shows up. They may win if it doesn't.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Year of Balance

Last year at this time, I looked at how the offensive and defensive efficiencies of the remaining teams stacked up, and concluded it was offense-heavy. Then, three defense-heavy teams (and Florida, third best in terms of balance, behind Texas and UConn) stormed into the final four. This year, the meme seems to be balance. Though the offensive side is a little more top-heavy, a tidily symmetrical 9 of the top 16 offenses and 9 of the top 16 defenses remain in the field, with only one severe outlier (SIU's offense). "Specialist" teams such as Illinois (#2 defense, #111 offense), Texas (#5 offense, #62 defense), and Boston College (#10 offense, #92 defense) have already been shown the door. In this year of balance, only two teams rank in the top 10 in both offense and defense - UNC and Ohio State. Here's how the remaining squads stack up:

1) UNC - 124.2
2) Florida - 123.7
3) Georgetown - 123.6
4) Ohio State - 120.9
6) Texas A&M - 120.4
8) Oregon - 119.7
12) Kansas - 119.2
13) Pittsburgh - 118.9
16) Butler - 117.7
21) Tennessee - 117.0
22) Vanderbilt - 116.7
24) UCLA - 116.7
28) Memphis - 115.7
37) USC - 114.2
38) UNLV - 114.1
81) Southern Illinois - 109.2

1) Kansas - 81.8
3) UCLA - 84.8
4) UNC - 85.0
5) Memphis - 85.6
10) Ohio State - 86.3
11) Texas A&M - 86.3
12) Southern Illinois - 86.7
13) Florida - 86.9
16) Georgetown - 88.3
25) USC - 90.4
26) Pittsburgh - 90.5
45) UNLV - 92.5
47) Butler - 92.7
50) Tennessee - 93.1
51) Oregon - 93.2
56) Vanderbilt - 93.9

Saturday, March 17, 2007

NCAAs in Brief

Virginia routs Albany in a game dubbed by Pomeroy as the first ever first round matchup between a 7-seed and a 15-seed. While it's trendy to pick on the Cavs as a shining example of strange seeding decisions made by the committee (I've gone as far as to call them the worst 4-seed ever, only to be corrected that Dayton in 2003 was probably a poorer choice), Virginia did pick a great game to trot out their best offensive performance on the season - 84 points in just 58 possessions, for an O Rating of 145. JR Reynolds broke out of a six game shooting slump and went 4-6 from two and 5-7 from three on his way to 28 points. UVA plays Tennessee, diligent and efficient scorers of 121 points against Long Beach.

Dateline, Columbus, Ohio: Reports confirm that the contest between Illinois and Virginia Tech was, in fact, a basketball game, despite all visual evidence to the contrary. The game featured 53 missed shots and was allowed by officials to degenerate into a non-called foul-fest. Despite shooting just a .429 EFG% and rebounding only 12.5% of their misses, the Hokies stormed back to win by forcing the Illini to turn it over on a full 32.75% of their possessions. I, for one, am thankful for the comeback if only because it spares the world from Illinois v. Southern Illinois, which could have been in the 20s.

Georgia Tech couldn't keep the Rebels off the offensive glass and couldn't execute well enough down the stretch. UNLV made free throws on a night their shots weren't falling (11 for 30 from two, 8 for 30 from 3). This game featured an astounding 45 combined offensive rebounds, as both teams were better gathering their own misses than their opponent's. Didn't see the game, but one couldn't help but wonder if the Jackets' rebounding may have been improved had Ra'Sean Dickey gotten more than 11 minutes.

In the NIT - NCSU defeats Marist. In a game for historical ACC fans everywhere, this game was played not in the RBC (Josh Groban concert) but in old Reynolds, where State certainly had a loud home court advantage. NCSU overcame a 29.12 TO% by hitting better than 70% of their twos and picking up a respectable (especially for State) 34.6% of their own misses.


Carolina takes on MSU. Apparently Tom Izzo has never lost in the second round. Could this be the return of Second-Round Roy? Or will Izzo's remarkable Sweet 16-or-nothing run continue?

BC takes on Georgetown. Reports are the the Hoyas are salivating at the thought of playing a team that simply takes possessions off on defense. If BC doesn't seriously man-up, they have no shot, no matter how well their offense plays. This could be a possessions-in-the-50s, score-in-the-high 60s/low 70s kind of game. Oh, and the Eagles still don't have a defensive answer for Jeff Green or Dajuan Summers, so look for lots of zone.

Maryland faces Butler. Much was made of Davidson's outside shooting, but while it was hot early, they finished hitting just 10 of 37 threes overall. Maryland has been excellent against the 3 all year, holding opponents under 30% (good for best in the ACC and 6th in the country). This doesn't bode well for Butler, which devotes a full 49.1% of its shots to three-pointers, sixth-most in the country.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

VCU 79, Duke 77

The last game of Duke's season was essentially a 40 minute show of "Duke, This is Your Season." Fast start, hot shooting early, early energy, then the turnover bug kicked in, opportunities at the line were missed, the defense failed to come up big, and the team just couldn't quite pull out another close game. Duke looked very good for some 5 minute stretches, and then just looked dog tired for the rest. The team played much of the last ten minutes as if it was waiting for the other shoe to drop, and sure enough, it did. Here's the HD Box for Duke's side for the game:

Player Poss +/- Pts 2PM-A 3PM-A FTM-A FGA Ast TO STL BLK ORB DRB
McRoberts 70/71 -2 22/77 7-14 0-0 8-11 14/58 4/20 1/70 0/69 5/60 6/33 6/37
McClure 16/71 -3 0/15 0-1 0-0 0-0 1/12 0/5 1/16 0/17 0/10 0/7 0/6
Nelson 43/71 +9 8/44 3-5 0-2 2-3 7/32 1/12 5/43 0/38 1/39 0/21 5/29
Scheyer 61/71 -8 7/66 2-4 0-3 3-4 7/49 1/21 2/61 1/61 0/55 3/30 4/34
Paulus 68/71 -1 25/72 5-12 3-6 6-11 18/57 4/18 6/68 3/65 0/60 3/35 2/37
Pocius 15/71 -3 3/18 1-1 0-0 1-1 1/11 0/4 0/15 1/18 0/11 0/6 1/6
Thomas 31/71 +0 4/32 2-3 0-0 0-0 3/21 0/11 1/31 0/30 0/24 2/10 2/15
Henderson 49/71 -3 8/56 4-7 0-0 0-2 7/49 1/16 1/49 1/48 0/45 4/31 2/25
Davidson 1/71 +0 0/0 0-0 0-0 0-0 0/0 0/0 0/0 0/1 0/0 0/0 0/0
Duke 71.00 -2 77 24-47 3-11 20-32 58 11/27 16/71 6/70 6/61 18/53 24/38

0.511 0.273 0.625
40.74 22.54 8.57 9.84 51.43 63.16

As you can see, Paulus and McRoberts had really nice games. Josh was an island inside, and he did an admirable job, both on the offensive and defensive end. He got on the glass, blocked shots, and scored 22 big points. And Greg played one tough game. He had Eric Maynor in his jock all night long, and managed to find the energy to go for 25 points, including several big 3s. Again, he seemed to be one of the only guys willing to take a tough shot when necessary - I like the attitude we saw out of Paulus at the end of the season, and I'm optimistic for next year with him back at the point.

Duke was let down by some bad turnovers, and some rough defense. VCU shot 9-16 from 3, and it seemed like none of those 3s were contested. VCU's press clearly frustrated Duke, but it never manifested itself until the ball got into the half court. Duke committed no turnovers on VCU's end, but had several that came after moving just a bit too fast to try to beat the press. Kind of like UNC has a secondary fast break, VCU's secondary press was what got us. And what can you say about Eric Maynor - kid had 22 points, including 3 straight killer shots at the end, plus 8 assists and 3 steals. He lived in the lane all night long, and was the reason that VCU won the game.

I will say, there are two burning questions left over from that game. 1) Why leave Greg on an island to bring the ball up? When VCU was just running full-court man-to-man, rarely did anyone come back to try to set a screen for Paulus to give him a little breathing room. I'm not sure if they were afraid of a trap or what, but he got stranded back there a lot, and had to expend a ton of energy just to get the ball across the line. Related to this, I'm surprised Duke didn't use McRoberts a little more to break the press. I'm not saying it would have worked every time, but more than once or twice would have been nice, and might have saved some of Greg's energy. 2) Why wasn't Nelson on Maynor at the end? DeMarcus is the best on-the-ball defender we have, quicker and longer than either Scheyer or Paulus. It was obvious to everyone in the building that VCU was going to go with Maynor, Maynor, and more Maynor down the stretch, so why not check him with our best. Jon couldn't stay with him, and essentially gave him a wide-open look at the game winner. Why weren't we countering their best offensive threat with our best defensive one?

This Duke team will have a lot to work on in the offseason, and I'm sure they are disappointed with the way this one came to an end. I'm disappointed to, but certainly not in the team - I'm just disappointed I won't be able to see the guys trot out with D-U-K-E on their jerseys until November. I love the roller coaster ride of the college basketball season, and there's always a period of loss when it ends. At least there are a lot of ACC teams left to root for in the tourney (plus a #1 women's team).

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

West ACC Pod Preview

Let's start up at the top half of the bracket, with a look at Virginia Tech's pod. Here's the pythagorean odds:

2nd Round Sweet 16
S. Illinois 82.73 38.15
Virginia Tech 49.63 29.32
Illinois 50.37 29.92
Holy Cross 17.27 2.62

Virginia Tech and Illinois would both be favored over Southern Illinois, but SIU has the best odds at getting into the sweet 16 on account of being heavy favorites over Holy Cross. Duke fans should be familiar with the Crusaders, who visited Cameron back in December. Keith Simmons, Patriot POY, is good enough to play in any league in the country. Torey Thomas is a lightning quick point guard who is 17th in the country in steals - along with backcourt-mate Simmons, the 'Sader guards are among the pilferin'est duos in the country (no one tops VMI brothers Travis (2nd) and Chavis (13th) Holmes). And Tim Clifford is a shot-blocking force who's reasonably effective, albeit very plodding, on the offensive end. Clifford has had serious problems with fouls against major opponents - if this rears its ugly head against SIU, watch out.

As for the Salukis, they happily wear the mantle of best team that people know of, but don't really know anything about. SIU's only loss since January 17 is in the Valley Championship game - that includes a very impressive 4 straight Valley road wins. SIU thrives on defense, particularly creating turnovers and getting on the glass. They excel so much in those two categories that the Salukis took nearly 200 more shots from the field than did their opponents. However, they're not shy about giving away fouls - SIU is the 11th worst team in the land in sending opponents to the line. SIU's offense is pretty well distributed among four top players, with Jamal Tatum, Matt Shaw, Randal Falker, and Tony Young all scoring over 300 points on the year. This team loves to play slow, defense-oriented games - look for the first round matchup with Holy Cross to stay in the 50s.

On the other side, VT and Illinois are about as evenly matched statistically as you can get. The Illini pair truly excellent defense with truly atrocious offense. I've tried to watch parts of 5-6 Illinois games this year, and they're pretty much unbearable. Neither the Illini nor their opponents post a .500 EFG%, and their games tend to be filled with lots of threes, not many of which go in. Warren Carter, Shaun Pruitt, and Brian Randle can really lock down the inside, and will be a load for Collins and Washington to handle in the front court - heads up Hokie fans, there could be a Robert Krabbendam sighting in the NCAAs (the horror!). As for Virginia Tech, they've lost three of four, including a game in which they gave up 0 offensive rebounds. That's unlikely to repeat itself against the Illini. Tech is very adept at hanging on to the ball, and in AD Vassallo, they have a legit threat to go off from the outside. They'll hope that Gordon and Dowdell can generate some free points with their defense, since scoring will be at a premium. I think Deron Washington could be a difference maker - Brian Randle is really the only Illinois player with the size/speed combination to be able to check him, and Randle tends not to be able to stay on the court for too long. Potential sour note for whichever team is leading toward game's end - neither side is good at shooting free throws, making a late game comeback scenario very plausible.

In the second round, I think SIU most wants to face Illinois, just to beat their big brother rivals from Champaign/Urbana. The Salukis beat the Hokies earlier this year in Orlando in a game that was uncharacteristically turnover filled. SIU put up a .605 EFG% and spent lots of time at the line, which let them overcome a 31.0 TO% (yikes). An SIU-Illinois matchup would probably be the most unwatchable game of the tournament - it would be the game where old points go to die, and no score would be too low to surprise me.

Now, onto the lower half of the West, and the pod for 6-seeded Duke:

2nd Round Sweet 16
Pittsburgh 89.78 44.00
Duke 86.27 51.78
VCU 13.73 3.01
Wright St 10.22 1.21

Duke is the statistical favorite to reach the Sweet 16 but, like Michigan State (and Clemson, and Georgia Tech, and ...) the stats paint a rosier picture than what lies ahead. The Duke defense of the last 10 games is simply not the same one as held the best offenses in the Big East and Big 10 (yes, Indiana had the best offense in the Big-10) to O Ratings in the 80s. The 3/14 matchup seems like a mismatch. Pitt has a pair of dangerous big men in Aaron Gray and Levon Kendall and a quartet of very effective guards in Levance Fields, Antonio Graves, Mike Cook, and Ronald Ramon. Those guards helped Pitt post the 5th best assist rate in all the land, as they share and share alike (all four at 16.6% or better). Their assist to turnover ratio is stellar as a team - Pitt only turns it over on 18% of possessions. All the guards, but particularly Ramon and Graves, are threats from beyond the arc, even though Pitt devotes under 30% of their attempts to threes. On defense, the Panthers play position defense - they don't force turnovers at all, but they clean up on the glass and they hold down your shooting percentage. Pitt has been on a similar period of defensive struggle to Duke - 9 of the last 10 opponents scored a point per possession or better. The difference is that Pitt's offense is good enough to overcome the recent defensive lapses to the tune of 6-4 - not a great stretch record, but not an awful one either.

Wright State, victors of two straight over Butler and both regular and tournament champs in the Horizon league, is likely going to have problems scoring the ball. Aside from not turning it over, the offense is just not very good. Emblematic is Dashaun Wood - the senior guard takes a full third of his team's shots, but his EFG% is under .500. He'll likely have big scoring numbers against Pitt - somewhere in the 20s, but may take 20 shots to get there. Jordan Pleiman is the only real inside threat - a good offensive and defensive rebounder who shoots 57% from the floor - but at 6'8", he's going to be looking up at Gray and Kendall all night. As long as Gray doesn't get in foul trouble, there should be no stopping him all night - Wright St just doesn't have the size to match.

Duke's first round opponent is the VCU Rams, alma mater of GH Sr and former squad of two Coach Jeff Capels. They to the popular media (to some extent) and the national fan community (to I think very large extent) at the very least a sentimental rooting interest, if not viewed as the likely victor over "hated" Duke. I can't tell you how many things I've seen in the last few days positively giddy over the thought of Duke losing to a CAA team in the first round. I'm here on the hold-your-horses brigade. First, VCU's best non-conference win is Houston (seriously). In their three games against top-flight mid-major opponents, VCU lost on neutral courts to Xavier and Toledo, and dropped a home bracket buster game to Bradley. The Rams split with ODU and Hofstra, but did record two wins over the Drexel Dragons. But that's it on the impressive win list - ODU, Drexel, Drexel, Hofstra, Houston. Let's not forget - VCU was an Eric Maynor-filled two minutes away from dropping the CAA title to George Mason, which had a very middling year.

VCU does two things well that could be a problem for Duke - one is create turnovers, and the other is knock down threes. Both come from a quartet of four very solid guards - starters Eric Maynor, Jesse Pellot-Rosa, and B.A. Baracus.... I mean Walker, and super sixth man Jamal Shuler. All create steals, and all hit from the outside - only Shuler (at 38.3%) is below 40% from three. Duke has been vulnerable both to the turnover and to giving up the three. However, I will note that VCU's assist rate is not very good. Duke has far less trouble with teams that try to create their own shot from outside than from teams who live off the drive and dish. Aside from Eric Maynor, there's simply no dish to this Rams team. VCU is also going to struggle on the boards against Duke more than they're used to - VCU has been an effective offensive rebounding team, but Duke's rebounding on the defensive end is best in the ACC and among the best in the country. In the loss to ODU, a similarly effective defensive rebounding team, VCU could pull in only 24.5% of their misses.

Finally, I like that we're bringing this Duke team out on rested legs, with Henderson back in the lineup, and looking to prove something to the naysayers who say Duke was a) overseeded and b) ripe for the picking. VCU has beaten a grand total of 2 NCAA teams - 12 seeded ODU and 13 seeded Albany - and played just one more. Duke has beaten 7 and played another 5. It's easy to talk yourself into the idea that VCU is going to force Paulus to turn the ball over, that they're going to stay hot from outside, and that they're going to run Duke out of the building in an upset. I just don't see it. The Rams are 199th in field goal defense, and Duke is going to go inside, inside, inside, inside, against the Rams' small front line all night long. I think McRoberts has a big day, and I think both Nelson and Henderson score a lot of points around the rim. And by the way, since the Virgnia Tech debacle, Paulus' A/TO ratio is about 1.5, and would be even higher if not for a 9 TO performance at Clemson (only the 2nd best team in major conference basketball at forcing turnovers). To me, VCU is the overrated, overhyped team of this pair, and Duke should be able to put them away (knocking firmly on wood).

Speaking of Clemson, the ACC is now 3-0 in the NIT as the Tigers put away ETSU 64-57. KC Rivers led the way with 17, and Trevor Booker was a man inside, pulling down 7 offensive boards on the way to a symmetrical 11-11 double-double (remind me again why he wasn't at least honorable mention on the all freshman team?). The Tigers will host Ole Miss in the next round. As a side note, it's been a rough NIT so far for the non-BCS schools. Only Bradley, UMass, and Marist beat major conference opponents (SDSU and Air Force knocked off Missouri St and Austin Peay, respectively).

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

East ACC Pod Preview

Let's start up with the top of the east regional. Here's the pythagorean odds for advancing.

2nd Round Sweet 16
UNC 99.26 81.35
Marquette 39.24 5.84
Michigan St 60.76 12.79
E. Kentucky 0.74 0.02

Not surprisingly, as the one seed, UNC is a heavy favorite to advance to the Sweet 16. While a lot of that is due to the infinitesimal chance that they lose to Eastern Kentucky, they're also big favorites in head-to-head matchups with Marquette or Michigan St - Carolina would win either matchup about 4 out of every 5 times. These numbers also don't account for the absence of Jerel McNeal for Marquette. He's Marquette's second best player, and his defense is equally important to the team as his offense (he would have drawn Neitzel). Michigan State is much like Duke this year, in that they played a very difficult in-conference schedule, and their record and naked eye assessment doesn't match their statistical performance, which has been stellar. Also like Duke, MSU's defense is ahead of its offense.

As for the matchups... UNC drew Eastern Kentucky, participants in this year's dance by virtue of a 1-point win over Austin Peay in the OVC tournament. EKU is going to have a ton of problems with UNC's pace - they play very slow basketball, but don't take good enough care of the ball to seem like a likely candidate to actually slow UNC down. Add in problems with size (their tallest player is 6'8") and rebounding (279th in the country in preventing offensive rebounds), and this looks like a long night for the Colonels. Their one strong point is interior scoring - they hit 55% of their twos, led by 6'4" senior Julian Mascoll, who has the dubious distinction of shooting better from the field (62.5% on twos) than from the line (56.5%). However, they haven't faced many frontcourts as big, talented, and deep as Rey Terry, Brandan Wright, The Mask, Deon Thompson, and Alex Stepheson. In fact they played only the 286th ranked schedule in the land, and they got annihilated by Ohio State 74-45 in one of their only games against top competition. Look for UNC to put up a very comfortable win that lets their starters get some rest.

Marquette and Michigan State is a matchup of two under-seeded teams that was diminished ever so slightly with the announcement that McNeal would miss the game. MSU is only 5-7 in their last 12, but the only loss to a non-tournament team in that stretch was at Michigan, and 2 of the 5 wins are over tourney teams in Wisconsin and Indiana. MSU has displayed Georgia Tech-like home/road disparities on account of their youth - they lost their only true non-conference road game (at Boston College) and picked up just one road win in conference play (at woeful Penn State). Of course, their conference road schedule was brutal - all of the top eight teams not named Michigan State (plus Penn State) - possibly the hardest, relative to conference, in BCS conference basketball. MSU will rely heavily on Drew Neitzel (you knew that) and Raymar Morgan (you may not have known that). Morgan is a freshman who missed some time with injury, but he uses almost exactly the same number of possessions as Neitzel does (Neitzel shoots more, Morgan turns it over more). MSU has some excellent offensive rebounders in the front court in Suton, Naymick, and Gray. Their big flaw on the season has been turnovers (again, similar to Duke) and particularly generous have been the big men. Turnovers could really be a problem for the Spartans against Marquette. The Golden Eagles are in the top 10% in the country in forcing turnovers, and they thrived against Duke in creating steals and getting easy points in transition. Marquette needs those turnovers, because in the half court, their offense is a little cringe-worthy - they are a very poor shooting team, and even a 39.3 ORB% can't elevate their EFG above 50% (note: I consider high offensive rebounding to contribute to higher field goal % because a second chance point is often an easier shot). That places Marquette's shooting in the bottom half of the country. James, Matthews, and McNeal have combined to hit just 28.3% of their 346 combined three-point attempts - that's really not good. Against MSU, they're facing one of the top half court defenses in the country. If they don't get turnovers to create points for them, it will be very difficult for the Eagles to score enough to win.

MSU would have the better chance to knock off the Heels in the round of 32. The frontcourt for the Spartans is better on defense and on the glass, and Neitzel is much more likely to go crazy and completely carry a team than James is. Carolina isn't too big on forcing turnovers, either, so MSU's season-long TO problem might not be too much of an Achilles heel. However, when it comes down to it, UNC just creates too many matchup problems for either Marquette or MSU to overcome. I like Michigan State to make it a game for 30-34 minutes (kind of like Duke did in Cameron) but for UNC to pull away comfortably at the end. And oh by the way, they'll have a very partisan crowd in Winston-Salem, which will make matters worse for whoever's trying to pull the upset.

Now to the bottom of the bracket, and the pythagorean odds for BC's Pod:

2nd Round Sweet 16
Georgetown 96.59 81.35
Boston College 64.90 13.46
Texas Tech 35.10 4.62
Belmont 3.41 0.57

Georgetown has precisely the same odds to hit the sweet 16 as UNC, but I think as a practical matter, they're even less likely to be upset. First, let's get Belmont out of the way. The Bruins upset ETSU in the A-Sun tourney and earned themselves a 15-spot in the process. Belmont has been stingy on the defensive end all year, giving up the 4th lowest EFG% and the single lowest 3pt % (28.3) in all the land. They don't do much else on D though - not a lot of turnovers, too many offensive rebounds, and too many opponent free throws. On offense, Belmont was again all about shooting - their EFG% is 15th in the nation, a full 11.7% better than opponents, but again, they do little else - way too many turnovers, a paucity of free throws, and no real offensive rebounds to speak of. All of Belmont's top 7 players are offensive threats, and all got plenty of shots on the year. Inside, they have height in 6'11" Boomer Herndon and 6'10" Andrew Preston, and that height can score (a combined 17 points per game on 62.4% from the floor). But they haven't had to face anyone like Roy Hibbert yet this year. Belmont's game is totally dependent on hitting shots and preventing the opponents from doing the same, and I'm not sure they'll do either very well against Georgetown.

I'm kind of underwhelmed by the 7-10 game. BC and Texas Tech are kind of similar in makeup - very good offenses supported by subpar defenses, and average supporting casts surrounding a couple of very good high usage players. In Texas Tech's case, Jarrius Jackson has played the 3rd most minutes in the country, with Martin Zeno not far behind. Both Ty Rice and Jared Dudley were over the 95% mark for BC during ACC play. Both Jackson and Dudley are superb, but Jackson is much more likely to demand the ball and take over (he took 15 shots per game on the year), and Coach Knight has managed to get his team to buy into the idea that that'll be the only way they can win. Dudley has been deferential to Rice and Marshall a bit too much, which is dangerous because both have some ball-hog tendencies. He needs to demand the ball be in his hands more often, because at 6'7", with 25 foot range, quickness to drive past a forward, strength to post up a guard, and a great ability to get to the line, he's a matchup problem for almost anyone. The Red Raiders are a good shooting team, both from 3 and from the line (they also get to the line a lot), which means they can shoot themselves back into any game. They also don't turn the ball over at all (likely to be even lower in this game, since BC is 308th! in the country in TO%). This could be a high scoring affair, with both teams getting up into the low 80s, and a game that goes down to the wire. I think BC has enough to get by Tech in the end.

Against Georgetown, however, BC's defense will get absolutely torched. This could be one of the biggest blowouts of the second round. BC plays cover-your-eyes awful team defense, which means they're liable to get screened and back-cut to death by a team that moves the ball and moves off the ball as well as the Hoyas. Jeff Green is a matchup problem for whatever combination of Dudley, Oates, and Spears is used to defend him, and that doesn't account for Dajuan Summers, who has started to develop into Jeff Green-lite as the season has played on. Wallace and Rivers handle the point capably, although Wallace is the only offensive threat of the two. And, oh yeah, they have the best 7-footer not named Greg Oden in Roy Hibbert. If Georgetown is vulnerable, it will be either to a team with athletes, that can get up and down and force the Hoyas out of their tempo, or to a team that plays excellent half court defense, and can frustrate the Hoyas' offense. Boston College and Texas Tech are neither of those teams, and Georgetown should win in a walk over either.

Congrats to FSU and NCSU for representing the ACC well in the first round of the NIT. Thornton was his typical Thornton-y self, scoring 24 on very good shooting, and leading the Noles in points, shots, and minutes (he tossed in a couple steals and blocks to boot). Every day of the post-season makes me more satisfied with my personal choice of him over Dudley for POY. As for the Pack, they must have been feeling fresh after having a whole day off to travel from Tampa to Philadelphia to take on a Drexel team that figured to be angry after a widely perceived snub in the tourney. Turns out only Frank Elegar (who went off) was angry, and NC State came from behind early to pull out a narrow win. All five starters made solid contributions. The Pack finally get rewarded, as the big upset by Marist over Okie State means that the RBC Center will get one more home game - that place should be absolutely packed and rocking, if nothing else as a tribute to the recent play of their team.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Midwest ACC Pod Preview

Let's start with Maryland, the 4 seed in the Midwest region. Here's the pythagorean odds for advancing for the 4 teams in the pod (pythagorean winning percentage courtesy of kenpom.com):

2nd Round Sweet 16
Maryland 86.39 62.85
Butler 72.30 27.27
ODU 27.70 5.64
Davidson 13.61 4.25

Maryland, ODU, and Davidson are all "hot" teams heading into the tournament. ODU's lost just once since January 20, Davidson just once since November 25(!), and Maryland just once since February 6. Butler, on the other hand, faded substantially down the stretch, losing to Wright State twice, Loyola-Chicago, and Southern Illinois, and failing to win either the regular season or tournament title in the Horizon league. A whole lot of people like ODU over Butler as the 5/12 upset. ODU actually rates out better than VCU in terms of stats in the Colonial. They go a legit nine deep, but are carried by the frontcourt combo of Valdas Vasylius and Arnaud Dahi. Drew Williamson and Brian Henderson are also very efficient offensive performers from outside. ODU's struggles have generally been defense-related. They haven't lost a single game in which they held opponents under a point per possession.

Butler's gone just 4-4 in their last eight. Like ODU, their defense has been torched in their losses. Unlike ODU, their offense has been exceptionally consistent. They were under a point per possession only 6 times, and most of those 6 times were within a bucket or two of the mark. Butler is basically a three-man team on offense - Graves, Green, and Crone take the lion's share of the shots, and no one else who plays more than 15 minutes/game takes more than 14% of the shots. Their matchup against ODU will be inside vs. outside. Butler's guards need to step up more than they have down the stretch to beat the Monarchs. I'm always wary of the popular upset pick, but I too think ODU has what it takes to make the second round.

Davidson smoked through the SoCon, losing only to App St on the way to a 17-1 record and a conference championship. They don't have a great field goal defense, but are the second-best defensive rebounding team in the country, and are pretty good at forcing turnovers. On offense, they thrive behind the three-point line - nearly 40% of their shots are threes, and they hit 37.4% from outside. Best of the bunch is Stephen Curry at 41.1%. The son of Dell inherited his dad's deadly touch from outside. Richards and Curry do it all from outside - Davidson has no real guard depth to speak of. In the frontcourt, Davidson rotates 5 guys who fall between 6'6" and 6'8". That's a big weakness against Maryland, who have serious talent in Gist and Ibekwe, plus 7'0" depth in Bowers, and a power post sub in Osby. Maryland also has the size on the perimeter to frustrate Davidson's shooters. Davidson is a very good mid-major team, but they ran into a bad matchup with Maryland.

In the second round, Maryland again would have a better matchup with Butler than ODU - again, Maryland has the size to frustrate Butler's guards, and their post players would have a big advantage. Against ODU, Dahi and Vasylius present matchup problems for Gist and Ibekwe, and could get them into foul trouble. Bowers and Osby are servicable backups, but no one you want to be giving 20 minutes to in a tourney game. Maryland's offense has been as hot as can be over the last 10 (except for the inexplicable struggle against Miami), and none of their potential opponents are dominant on the defensive end. Look for Vasquez and Strawberry to really try to force the pace against all of their potential opponents. This is about as good a draw as Maryland could have hoped for as a 4 seed, and they should be a heavy favorite (possibly even better than the 3-to-2 Pythagorean odds) to make the Sweet 16.

Georgia Tech is the 10 seed in the Midwest. Here's what their pythagorean odds look like.

2nd Round Sweet 16
Wisconsin 95.88 68.06
UNLV 29.80 6.11
Georgia Tech 70.20 25.40
Corpus Cristi 4.12 0.43

Georgia Tech rates very favorably in Pomeroy's ratings (14th overall). I think this is a bit of an overrating, reflecting some early season blowouts, but, as shown with neutral court wins over Memphis and home wins over UNC, this is a team that can beat anyone on any given night. Their starting five of Crittenton, Morrow, Young, Smith, and Dickey is very, very good, but there's a fall off on the bench outside of Mario West (defensive stud, and almost certainly on the court at the end of the game). Their first round opponent, UNLV, has finished on a 14-2 stretch, but the two losses have been big - by 27 at BYU, and by 15 at SDSU. UNLV is rather unimpressive on offense, with one exception - their ability to hold onto the ball. Their 16.8 TO% is 6th in the country. This could be a big key to the game, as Georgia Tech is generally effective at forcing turnovers, and thrives scoring points in transition. The other big key is on the glass - UNLV has not been good at keeping opponents off of the offensive boards, and Georgia Tech is the 4th best offensive rebounding team in the country. The Jackets' ability to get easy points on second chances and in transition may well dictate the outcome.

In the other first round matchup, Wisconsin is a heavy favorite, and should comfortably prevail. There are at least some positives about the Islanders that could present problems. In raw terms, Corpus Cristi's offense it excellent - 3rd in EFG%, 4th in FT Rate, and 27th in offensive rebounding (all national ranks). Their one big flaw on offense is turnovers (and it is a big problem, at 23.4%) is the one thing Wisconsin doesn't do well on defense - they play field goal and position defense, and generally don't force a lot of TOs. Josh Washington is deadly from the outside (47.6% from 3) and in Chris Daniels, they have a legit 7-footer in the post who scores extremely well (over 60% from the floor) and mops up on the defensive glass. As a team, they'll sub frequently, and have at least some size - 6'7", 6'7", and 6'8" besides Daniels.

If Wisconsin and Georgia Tech meet in the second round, there will be a real contrast in styles. Wisconsin plays very slow and loves to play inside. Tech prefers to go more uptempo and plays outside in - they have shooters in Young, Morrow, and Crittenton, and Dickey and Smith are much more secondary options - they score off offensive rebounds and dribble penetration more than they create their own shots. The battle of the boards in this game would be very good, and the availability of Brian Butch (one of the best defensive rebounders in the big 10) could make a big difference. Expect Mario West to see a lot of PT to try to check Alando Tucker - West has the size and strength to check Tucker down low, and the speed to stay on his drives. The other big key would be how Javaris Crittenton handles the defense of Michael Flowers. Flowers has basically been up in the jock of every good guard in the Big 10, and Crittenton has been prone to big turnover games. If Georgia Tech plays like they do in Atlanta rather than like they have on the road (minus a half against Memphis in Hawaii), this could be one heck of a game.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

ACC Finals and Initial Bracket Thoughts

NC State's run through the ACCs was truly remarkable - not just for the fact that they beat Duke, Virginia, and Virginia Tech and then took UNC right down to the wire using a squad that (generously) goes seven deep, but for how they actually played. UNC, Duke, and Virginia finished 1,2,3 in that order in defensive efficiency on the conference season, and Virginia Tech was no slouch itself. NC State proceeded to torch them all, to a tune of a 113.67 combined O Rating over the four games. Their EFG% was .600 or better in each game, and their combined PPWS was 1.32 (it was better than 1.30 in three of the four games). They hit inside (61%), they hit outside (43%), and they hit from the free throw line (78%). They posted the best offensive performance of any Duke opponent, and the third-best of any Tar Heel opponent. My hats go off to the Pack for their run.

My hats off to the Tar Heels as well. They played two games of great defense (FSU, BC), and two games of great offense (NCSU, BC), on their three game run to the ACC title. They took advantage of some tired legs on State's part and shredded their defense, posting a 132.05 offensive rating, second-best of the conference season. They posted a conference-season-best 1.404 PPWS on the back of great shooting from the line (23-24) and from the field (30-52 overall, .635 EFG%). And kudos also to the two UNC seniors - this team gets a lot of pub for all of its talented youth (who also played well today), but the big clutch baskets for UNC came from Wes Miller (2 huge threes to give them their 8 point halftime margin) and Reyshawn Terry (big shots down the stretch just as NC State was threatening to steal all the momentum).

I will make three comments about Ty Lawson's dunk:
1) Little man has hops - until he actually finished it, I thought he wouldn't get up high enough.
2) I still don't like taking a shot at the hoop when you have a chance to run out the clock, but I understand it a little in this circumstance - hard fought game, winning a championship, youthful energy, and a wide open breakaway. Don't get me wrong, I wish he had just dribbled it out or chucked the ball into midair to celebrate, but given the context, I understand the emotion and exuberance getting the better of him.
3) The things that some NC State fans are saying about him are reprehensible. There were a lot of angry words thrown at Gerald Henderson in the wake of The Foul, but to my knowledge, no one went this far. To any of you who called Lawson a n****r on that forum, go up to your coach, Sidney Lowe, and ask him if he thought Lawson's dunk was "pretty mad n****rish." (actual quote from the post by StingrayRush at 2:08:35pm). Those fans who choose to make those kind of verbal attacks on an opposing player only embarrass the University they say they support, and the rest of the NC State community should be up in arms. And while part of me hates to call attention to this kind of ignorance and intolerance, the other part of me knows that shining the spotlight on it (however weak a spotlight this site may cast) is the only real way to try to combat it.

Now, on to more pleasant topics - the NCAAs!

On the whole, the ACC was very well treated by the committee. Maryland, UVA, and Duke all seemed to not get punished in any way for their early ACC tourney exits, nor did Virginia Tech take a hit for the loss to NC State. BC got knocked a little for its fade down the stretch (against the toughest part of its schedule), and Georgia Tech may have been knocked down one line for losing to Wake (though 10 isn't too unfair for that team). I think 6 was better than a lot of Duke fans were expecting, but none of the 7 seeds really scream for a bump up in the seed line (Nevada has the best case, but that case might be hurt if the Kyle Shiloh injury is serious). I thought the bigger overseed was Virginia - they struggled mightily outside the JPJ, going only 3-9 in road/neutral games against D-I opponents, and their 11-5 record in conference was a big product of their schedule (as has been discussed here, maybe ad nauseam). This is not to say that Virginia is not a good team - they certainly are, and any team with Singletary and Reynolds is dangerous in a one-and-done format. But a 4 seed?

This site will be doing pod previews over the next 4 days:
3/13: Midwest Regional - Maryland and Georgia Tech
3/14: East Regional - North Carolina and Boston College
3/15: West Regional - Virginia Tech and Duke
3/16: South Regional - Virginia

Plus 3/16 will feature a Duke recap from the VCU game and (hopefully, knock on wood) a preview for the Round of 32 matchup on Saturday. Stay tuned!

ACC Semis

Carolina was the prohibitive favorite to win this tournament (I think about 3:2 odds), and they've played like it so far, blowing out FSU and now BC. Defense has been the key so far - the two opponents have scored just 114 points on 130 possessions, and made just 36 of 110 shots. Brandan Wright has looked every bit the freshman of the year, turning in a dominant 20 point, 5 rebound, 2 block performance, and totally shutting down any inside scoring for BC. Carolina also should be well rested for the finals - their game against BC was only 59 possessions, slowest of the season for UNC, and a full 7 possessions slower than the previous low in conference play (66, also against BC).

Where UNC has propelled themselves into the finals on the strength of field goal defense, the Pack have gotten here on a ridiculously hot shooting stretch. In the second halves of the Duke and Virginia games, State shot a combined 35 of 50 from the field - that's 70%! Their hot shooting continued through the first half of the Virginia Tech game, and although they faded a bit in the second half, their efg% was still at .600 for the game. Their EFG% over the past 3 games - a ridiculous .623. State needs their shooting to stay hot, because they're still not getting offensive rebounds (a whopping 0, yes 0, against Virginia Tech) and turning the ball over (22% in the three games). Yesterday, State was the beneficiary of a big disparity at the free throw line. The Pack scored 16 more points at the stripe than did the Hokies, in large part because NC State shot 86%, while Tech could manage only 42% (much scorn will be heaped on Markus Sailes and his 1-6 performance, but even without Sailes' efforts, the Hokies still shot just 54% from the line).

It's been a truly magical run so far for Sidney, his red coat, and his short-handed band of misfits. The odds are not good it will result in a championship. Atsur came up hobbled during play, and was very clearly not as mobile on his leg as he had been in the earlier rounds. Gavin Grant limped into the press conference. Courtney Fells has spent time on the sideline in each game with wraps on his thighs, and apparently has an elbow problem. And shooting the ball at a .623 EFG% clip seems unsustainable, particularly against a Tar Heel defense that held opponents to .391 EFG% in their two tournament games. Also, the numbers on the conference season so far say that Carolina wins this game 19 out of 20 times. My brain says Carolina, probably in a walk. But my heart is with Sidney Lowe and the Pack, and I'll be rooting for that 5%. (As a side note, an NCSU win probably guarantees the ACC 8 teams in the field. I know Georgia Tech isn't completely safe, but they seem to be on the right side of the bubble in the collective estimation, and FSU is seemingly on the wrong side. If NCSU steals a bid from Florida State, then it's a push. If FSU wasn't going to get in anyway, then a Pack win is good for the conference).

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Duke-NC State HD Box

I know I usually do the efficiency table for the Duke games, but I really like what Ken Pomeroy has done with the HD Box scores, so I thought I'd try one out for the Devils. This is Duke-only, so it doesn't include the performance of the Wolfies. If you need explanation, check here.

Player Poss +/- Pts 2PM-A 3PM-A FTM-A FGA Ast TO STL BLK ORB DRB
McRoberts 59/73 -5 17/68 8-11 0-2 1-2 13/52 2/25 5/59 2/60 0/41 1/29 5/21
McClure 52/73 +1 0/58 0-2 0-0 0-0 2/45 1/21 3/52 0/50 1/40 2/24 3/22
Nelson 59/73 +4 17/72 7-13 0-3 3-5 16/52 2/28 1/59 0/57 0/31 2/26 7/19
Scheyer 69/73 -5 14/78 0-3 4-7 2-2 10/58 2/29 3/69 1/68 0/49 2/30 1/25
Paulus 69/73 -14 18/71 3-5 3-9 3-4 14/56 2/27 2/69 0/69 0/50 1/30 1/24
Pocius 36/73 +5 14/40 3-3 2-2 2-2 5/28 0/14 3/36 0/34 0/21 0/13 0/13
Thomas 32/73 -16 0/27 0-1 0-0 0-0 1/25 0/11 0/32 0/32 0/19 0/14 0/11
Zoubek 6/73 -2 0/6 0-0 0-0 0-0 0/5 0/3 1/6 0/7 0/7 0/2 0/3
Duke 73 -5 80 21-38 9-23 11-15 61.000 9/30 18/73 7/72 2/51 12/32 17/26

0.553 0.391 0.733
30.00 24.66 9.72 3.92 37.50 65.38